Dr. Rebecca Dew is an Independent Researcher based in Florida, where she can be reached at Academia.edu or her personal website, or followed on Twitter @beccadew. Additionally, Dew is a recent participant in the Wikipedia Fellows program. Here we ask her a few questions about her experiences:
What was your role as a Wikipedia Fellow?
Volunteering as a Wikipedia Fellow meant communicating with a dozen odd scholars and professionals in academia over the Zoom platform and perhaps even the international date line, and this in combination with whatever academic or professional concerns we also held at the time. I worked on articles concerning activism, authority, and a sprinkling of other topics of interest and relevance to me and my research objectives. I also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the work of others and even co-author a Wikipedia article with another cohort fellow.
What surprised you most about your experience working with Wikipedia?
I would say the level of participation and contribution from other editors and authors was a large part of what made participating in the Wikipedia project both surprising and helpful. One’s attitude when approaching a solo-authored or co-authored paper for a peer-reviewed journal is, as a rule, “this is my work” or “our work” and it is well-documented, referenced, and it is going to stay that way. The attitude one must take in approaching a Wikipedia article is something more like “this is what we now know” and the part I play is limited, interactive, and modifiable. Writers and editors on Wikipedia are doing what they can to contribute what they know, then step back and watch as others contribute what they know. The feel is different, and so is the process. It is rewarding, but it is rewarding in a rather different way—an unfinished, adaptive sort of way. I have written more about this in a blog post about my experience.
Perhaps the most exciting or challenging quality of striving and at times struggling to be a dedicated intellectual in the twenty-first century is similar to what it’s like serving as a Wikipedia editor, careening through the digital and virtual options we have for gelatinizing and sharing our findings, our hypotheses, and our minds. Like almost everything else these days, our options appear to be virtually limitless, or at the very least, virtual. But like overwhelmingly everyone these days, one cannot be a happy or fulfilled academic without taking every one of these innovative options with a healthy grain of realism, skepticism, and salty and good-humored good sense. I have found that with working with Wikipedia and with other Wikipedians, the most important thing to remember is the significant part that the person who is doing the writing plays in making the ever-unfinished product, the Wikipedia articles that we read. Wikipedia is as accurate and effective as the people who write it and read it allow their contributions and interpretations to be. Wikipedia provides a blend of the features of knowledge and accessibility; I consider it a happy privilege to be someone who can in some way contribute to both.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on several projects. The most pressing of these would be two monographs, one on the political thought of Hannah Arendt in relation to Karl Jaspers, and the other on activism and its representation in relation to the history of political thought. Other projects include critiques of Habermas, Heidegger, and Marx, and a flattering assessment of the work of Michael Oakeshott. There is a co-authored paper that I am working on with a friend of mine in Australia. I also like keeping my hand in Wikipedia, and I enjoy teaching. There are a few other books and articles churning over in my mind; I find that’s the way with many ideas. I’d rather live thinking of much than think of thinking less.
Words of wisdom for first-time MPSA conference attendees about visiting Chicago? While in Chicago, do what the Chicagoans do. I cannot emphasize enough the priority of enjoying where you are while you are there—especially when you go to all of the trouble of flying to be there. I stayed downtown to explore the venue and as much of its surrounding features as possible. Among my favorite experiences beyond the conference itself were visiting the Cloud Gate, the various art displays, and Jay Pritzker Pavilion at and around Millennium Park, walking near the Chicago Riverwalk, crossing DuSable Bridge and spotting Trump Tower close to sunset at the river’s edge. I also enjoyed sampling a variety of the city’s local foods and the many options of eating around the corner of the conference. I do recommend eating at the conference venue itself, with its varieties of classic, international, and vegan fare, and bumping into all sorts of academic guests. In my visit to Vanderbilt University earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet with several faculty and discuss my work on Hannah Arendt there. But it was not until MPSA 2018 that I had the opportunity to meet with Assistant Professor Allison Anoll and discuss the correlation of her work on prisons, race, and participatory norms to mine on the carceral state, violence, and what can be considered carceral spillover. I also had some fantastic opportunities to swap research ideas and stories with other established and early career researchers from Baylor, Stanford, and even the University of Chicago. During the conference, I stayed with a fellow researcher based at the University of Chicago who, in fact, flew into the conference on the same flight as I did. Getting to know some locals can make all of the difference in what can otherwise feel like a new and unfamiliar world.
Speaking of opportunities around travel. Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
I find this question difficult to answer. I am tempted to respond with Hawai’i; I lived there for four years, and I have always thought that the best way to get to know someplace and get a feel for its culture is to live there. Perhaps that is one reason why I followed my own advice and moved to Brisbane, Australia, where I completed my PhD at the University of Queensland, a superior research university where I really had one of the best academic and professional experiences to be imagined. In terms of traveling to exotic locations, Fiji or New Zealand’s Bay of Islands would rate highly, although I have not spent enough time at either to state which I would prefer best.
This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.